Spontaneity makes recognition stand out

Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly Canada moves to flexible online rewards system
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/22/2013

A couple of years back, Eli Lilly Canada was somewhat stuck when it came to its recognition program. The pharmaceutical company had a paper-driven process with divisional awards throughout the company, along with service anniversary milestones.

There was also a committee that had to find the time to come together and review all the nominations to select the winners, says Karen McKay, vice-president of human resources at the Toronto-based company.

The events tended to be annual, so people who did incredible things in the last quarter of the year tended to receive more noticeable nominations, while people forgot what happened earlier in the year.

“There was that kind of perceived bias built into it,” she says. “In short, it happened once a year, it was bureaucratically difficult to administer and it was an investment that we made in the company — we tried to make a big deal out of it — but it still lost the kind of elegance and spontaneity that you’d want to see in an award program.”

The HR department was also looking to streamline its efforts using better tools, says McKay. “We knew that it was time to make a change and most of the employee surveys suggested rewards and recognition was an area that we wanted to look at.”

The reward program at the 500-employee Canadian company was self-administered and internal, so HR decided to look at outside vendors. It settled on Achievers because of its client and customer focus.

“They were really attentive to what we wanted to see and (the system was) very easy to put in place,” says McKay.

“The appeal of the new tool is it’s really brought together everybody in the company under one program, being in a virtual tool. That was really important for us. That way, we would have field and head office people recognizing and rewarding each other, which we thought was really beneficial to our culture as well.”

Now, the company’s values statement appears when employees use the tool, so they choose a value representing the action being rewarded, identify the number of points to allocate and then identify the person for the reward. That then is posted on the internal newswire — without any approval or review.

“It just is a very spontaneous reward,” says McKay. “At first, I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really letting all the hens out of the henhouse, isn’t it?’ In fact, it’s absolutely delightful, we’re really pleased to see the kind of uptick the tool has.”

There’s also greater transparency, she says.

“Before… we had guarded employees’ privacy too much — and maybe that goes back to the old culture of taking care of employees — and I think some of the new generations came in and said, ‘Are you kidding? I want everyone to know what I got.’”

Ninety-eight per cent of employees have participated in the new rewards program, says McKay, with the most popular items chosen from the electronics, restaurant and gift cards categories.

And since launching the system in 2011, Eli Lilly has made a few changes in response to employee requests. These have included increasing the number of points available — before, people could only award the number of points set for that level in the organization, but now employees can choose — and allowing people to accumulate points to award instead of losing them if not used. There are two separate buckets of points for each employee, which can be accumulated — one with points to award others and the other with points they’ve been awarded.

“The flexibility of the tool enabled us to adapt it as some of the changes in business occurred as well, which was very appealing,” she says.

The Achievers program also allows for three types of recognition: peer-to-peer, supervisor-to-subordinate and subordinate-to-supervisor. That’s meant employees have even recognized the president, “which is really something to see,” says McKay. “It’s right across the board.”

With the old system, a person’s manager was not automatically notified if one of his employees had been recognized. Now, the supervisor is prompted with a message outlining the reward, which gives him a chance to pass on that recognition.

Managers are also using the system to run their own campaigns as well, she says. To encourage certain behaviour or reward certain achievements, they purchase points themselves.

“It has created a great deal of currency within the company that’s no longer retained by HR. It becomes a tool for business which I like. If you think about transparency... part of it is letting go that HR (owns) this. It really doesn’t need to be that way.”

Eli Lilly Canada also tracks usage to make sure the program is being used properly.

“We want to make sure we have broad usage, so it’s not concentrated with anyone’s level or function within the company. If we see one particular area is lagging behind, we’ll go in and talk to the managers about that, and maybe work with the team to say, ‘Don’t forget’ — those types of things,” she says.

“Fortunately, we have pretty good usage across the company, we haven’t seen one pocket fall behind or one area blowing the budget in June.”

The Achievers program has also helped with managing costs as you only reward the points you buy, says McKay.

“It’s totally controlled — you pick out the points, you bought them, you budget for them for the year — you don’t have any surprises that come through. From a planning perspective, it certainly helps us… control those costs.”

There are not really cost savings — it’s about efficiencies for HR, she says.

“Having a tool like this in place fits in with your culture and helps to enable so many other parts of the business. We were probably sub-optimally investing in this before.”

The popularity of the new system has been apparent in the employee surveys — but it’s not the only tool used.

“The tool is a really critical cornerstone of our recognition culture and then you need to surround it with other features such as giving and receiving feedback, knowing what ‘great’ looks like, consistency of management practices, senior leadership credibility — all those ingredients have to go into a robust reward strategy,” says McKay.

“We’ve learned that over the years. One tool is not going to come in and do it… you’ve got to work on all the elements that surround it, which we have been doing in order to try and continue to meet the employee needs and expectations.”

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